Long List of Fixes, But Silver Line Opening and Cost Overrun Still Unknown

Silver Line construction/Credit: Fairfax CountyWhen the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority and Metro came to an agreement on Silver Line turnover on Thursday, it was hailed from Capitol Hill to Dulles Airport as a major step towards getting the rail extension open this summer.

But at what cost?

The project is already seven months behind schedule and will be missing a project manager since Pat Nowakowski announced last week he is leaving the job. It is also $150 million over budget.

And those are just the issues before one starts to look at the list featured in the agreement, which includes more than 50 items, some of them major system woes that need to be addressed before passengers can safely ride the line.


The Silver Line’s Phase 1 will run from East Falls Church to Reston’s Wiehle Avenue. Dulles Transit Partners, the contractor building the line, submitted for “substantial completion” on April 9, the same day $25,000-a-day penalties were slated to begin under the terms of the contract with MWAA.

The submission was actually a resubmission as DTP, a division of Bechtel, also filed on Feb. 7 — and MWAA found issues of 7 of 12 areas in its review.

Those issues were supposed to be fixed before MWAA could accept the project to turn over to Metro. MWAA said Thursday it was accepting the project as substantially complete, even if dozens of punchlist items were, in fact, not complete.

Metro said if the agency waited until MWAA completed all the necessary work before taking custody of the project, passenger service probably wouldn’t begin until late 2014 — about a year behind schedule.

But there is still no opening day in site and fixes ranging from “ponding in stations” to automatic train control glitches to “waterproofing at Wiehle Station are not exactly quick cosmetic fixes.

“The deal MWAA struck with WMATA yesterday makes a farce of the concept of ‘substantial completion,’ ” says Terry Maynard, co-chair of Reston Citizens Association’s Reston 2020 Committee. “Instead of verifying and certifying that DTP has built the Silver Line to contract specifications before turning it over to WMATA for testing and training, MWAA is passing off a poorly and incompletely constructed rail line with a 50-item laundry list of work that needs to be done before WMATA may accept it.  Some of that work is simple, but some of it will be difficult, expensive, and time consuming to complete.”

Maynard is concerned about what the cost to MWAA — and ultimately the taxpayer — will be to make the fixes. Under the terms of the agreement, MWAA must:

  • Reimburse WMATA (Metro) for costs it has incurred in providing technical advisory services as a direct result of the line not being completed on Sept. 9, 2013.
  • Cover Metro’s cost of having two employees, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, monitoring the Horton Remote Terminal Units (RTUs), which help run the crucial Automatic Train Control software. As mentioned in a $1.8 million contract MWAA awarded last week to a New York company, the current controls are below par and replacing and upgrading could take a year.
  • MWAA will also pay Metro the costs of managing said contract with Alstom Signaling.

“The delays, repairs, and new construction requirements in the MWAA-WMATA deal will all cost money, probably tens of millions of dollars although no one has told the public what the cost will be,” said Maynard. “Worse, we don’t have any idea who will pay for all this. ”

Maynard says if the costs are shared under the funding partners agreement among MWAA, Loudoun, and Fairfax counties, it means that Dulles Toll Road users will end up paying about two-thirds of the added cost.

“It makes no sense whatsoever that toll road users should pay for the failure of DTP to meet its contractual obligations or the failure of MWAA to make sure that it did.”

MWAA officials said last week about $23 million is available in its contingency fund.

Metro General Manager Richard Sarles said Thursday that Metro will likely take control of the line next month and that allowing MWAA to complete the items after that will help get the line open this summer.

Sen. Mark Warner (D), who met with MWAA officials this week, says both agencies need to get the project done correctly and quickly.

“I strongly encourage MWAA and WMATA to maintain a sense of urgency so that we will see the Silver Line up and running before the end of summer,” he said in a statement. Warner has been critical of the Silver Line’s delays for months.

“I urge everyone involved to pull together to get the remaining punch-list issues resolved quickly so we can move forward to the crucial safety testing. Too many travelers and taxpayers have waited too long for these final steps not to be resolved as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

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